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Can data be recovered even when a hard drive does not spin? 

The short answer—yes. The long answer—it's complicated and depends on what has caused the platters to stop spinning.

In this guide, we'll answer the following questions:

  • What exactly is the spinning mechanism inside the drive?
  • Why does my hard drive not spin?
  • What causes your hard drive's platters to stop spinning?
  • What does this mean in terms of the complexity of data recovery?
  • How does Stellar Data Recovery deal with hard drives whose platter doesn't spin?

"My hard drive does not spin” - What does this mean?

The language a consumer uses to describe their problem isn't technical—understandably so. We routinely hear the following expressions from clients:
  • My hard drive has stopped spinning and I can't access any data...
  • I switched on the computer, but don't hear the usual sounds from my hard drive...
  • My hard drive spins up and then immediately spins down...
  • My hard drive's spin cycle is broken...
  • My hard drive has frozen up/seized up...

All these problem expressions are linked to the same root cause—the hard drive motor has stopped rotating. 

  • As a result, the hard drive platter has stopped spinning. 
  • And because of that, the read/write heads of the hard drive can't read or write any data. 
  • This isn't the worst of all hard drive malfunctions, and the chances of data recovery are high. 
  • This depends on the cause of the malfunction of the motor. 

Why does a hard drive not spin? Why does the motor stop? Why don’t the platters spin?

For a client, all these questions (though technically different) emerge from the same problem. 

Let's understand the different causes of a hard drive not spinning, or of its platters not rotating as usual. 

1. PCB can't send enough power to the motor

The printed circuit boards of the hard drive—apart from several other functions—send power to the motor and cause (and sustain) its motion. 

The motor then transfers this motion to the platter, whose rotation is like the heartbeat of the hard drive.
When the hard drive does not spin (the platters don’t rotate), your hard drive is only a paperweight, nothing more. 

Now imagine what happens when for some reason, the PCB either stops feeding power to the motor or doesn't feed it enough power to sustain its motion.

Obviously, the motor will either not start spinning, or will spin up and then soon spin down, bringing the platter rotation to a halt. Now you know why your hard drive is spinning and stopping.

This is a common cause of hard drive motors stopping their spinning movements. In such cases, we can reliably recover all your data. However, the PCB may stop functioning due to a damaged diode as well.

If you suspect that your hard drive does not spin because of a faulty PCB, please don't be tempted to open up the hard drive to replace the PCB. Here's why:

  • You should never open a hard drive outside of a Clean Room (a special lab space that's environment-controlled and dust-free, to ensure the safety of your hard drive).
  • You should never touch a hard drive’s parts with bare hands or without specific tools because it's very likely you'll inflict damage to the fragile parts.
  • Modern hard drives contain adaptive data in their PCBs; this means you can't simply replace a PCB with another and expect your hard drive to resume work as usual.
  • The information on a PCB's controller chip is unique to a drive; you need an expert to find the right replacement part from a compatible donor hard drive.
  • The margin of error is negligible; DIY could easily result in permanent loss of data.

2. Wear and tear of the hard drive motor

The list of all possible reasons why a hard drive does not spin because of its malfunctioning motor is impossibly long. 

Every year, we analyze 1000s of hard drives whose motor has malfunctioned, and never run out of new experiences of identifying root causes of the malfunction. Some of the most common ones are:

  • The lubricant in the motor dries down or runs out
  • The motor is at its end of life 
  • The electric connections between the motor and the PCB have faltered
  • A piece of debris lodged inside the hard disk has caused physical damage to the motor
  • A sudden jerk, bump, or kick has caused physical damage to the motor

In all these cases, the easy solution is to replace the motor with another one from the same hard drive model. 

This transplantation, however, is extremely intricate and demands specialized knowledge, special tools, and state-of-the-art infrastructure. 

3. Read/write head gets stuck on the platter

Inside your hard drive, the read/write heads are mere nanometers away from the platter. If the heads come in contact with the platter, they can gouge out the magnetic coating on the platter. This coating is where your data resides in the form of 1s and 0s. 

The read/write heads may touch the platter, and this will be evident in the form of a tickling or clicking sound from your hard drive. It's likely that the platter will continue spinning, and the head will inflict scratches on it. This could mean permanent data loss from the sectors that suffer severe scratching. 

In some cases, the read/write head gets stuck on the platter, causing its rotation to stop. So, even though the motor is working alright in this case, the platter isn't rotating. And soon enough your motor could burn out. In such cases, the damage is immense. Not only is the platter damaged, but so is the motor. Also, in all likelihood, the read/write heads will also be damaged. 

Class 100 clean room

ISO certified Class 100 room environment, where various tasks are conducted on hard drives/storage media

Hard drive transplantation

Data Recovery Expert doing parts transplantation on a hard drive in a controlled environment

Data Validation

Data Recovery Expert manually checks the quality of recovered data to ensure that the recovered files are in best state

How do we approach data recovery in hard disks where the spin cycle is disrupted, or the platters don’t rotate?

Let’s understand how we go about data recovery in the most complicated of the scenarios we discussed above. 

Let’s consider a hard drive whose read/write heads have clamped down on the platter. In this scenario, we have the following complications:

  • The motor har burned out
  • The platter is scratched
  • The read/write heads are damaged

In such a case, Stellar Data Recovery experts approach the data recovery as follows:

  • Carefully pull back the read/write heads from the platter. 
  • Study the extent of damage to the heads, platters, and motor. 
  • Identify and source replacement parts (read/write heads and motor) from our massive catalog of donor hard drives. 
  • Burnish the scratched platter to remove embedded debris, if any. 
  • Reassemble the hard drive after transplanting its parts. 
  • Make the platter rotate at the required rpm speed. 
  • Read the data, and extract it on a clone hard drive. 

What should you do if your hard drive does not spin anymore?

If you believe that your hard drive does not spin, its motor has stopped rotating, or its platter has stopped spinning, please stop using it immediately. The sooner you hand over your hard drive to experts, the likelier your data recovery will be. 

You only get one chance to recover data. This one chance is your best chance.

Request a quote from us today. It’s the first step towards recovering your data.

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